Endless research | VailDaily.com

Endless research

Steve Lynn
Dominique TaylorDr. Michael Torry stands in the X-ray machine he and his collegues adapted to film moving bones at his biomechanic labaratory in the Vail Valley Medical Center. Torry was recently asked to participate in the National Academy of Science's Keck Futures Initiative, which only invites 100 scientists a year.

Science is more than a full-time job for Dr. Michael R. Torry, director of the Biomechanics Research Laboratory at Steadman-Hawkins Research Foundation in Vail.

“The job never leaves you,” Torry said.

Some days Torry works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and goes home to read research papers. Other days he works 12 hours with his team of researchers.

Today, Torry is showing off the biplane fluoroscopy machine, one of two in the world, in the basement of the Vail Valley Medical Center. The machine is like an X-ray movie that shows how, for example, bones in the foot move when a person walks.

Torry and his team have done advanced mathematics and have designed the software to run the machine, which shows a three-dimensional model of bones and tracks their movement at high speeds within a fraction of a hair.

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Torry hopes his work with the machine will help improve shoulder and knee surgeries one day.

And there’s always skiing injuries for Torry to study, too.

“Our goal is to get you back to skiing at the same level without pain and complications,” Torry said.

Torry has three children: a 4-year-old boy and 2-year-old twins. He lives with his wife, Greta, in Eagle. Torry earned his master’s degree in biomechanics from Illinois State University and his doctorate in biomechanical engineering from Southern Illinois University.

Torry took the job at Steadman-Hawkins sight-unseen when he moved to Vail in 1996. When he drove from the Midwest to Vail in a moving truck, he looked at the avalanche chutes in the mountains around Frisco and thought that’s where people mostly skied.

It wasn’t until he reached Copper Mountain that he learned most people use chair lifts.

Torry is a leading scientist and researcher in sports medicine, said Dr. Peter Millett, shoulder specialist for the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic. Millett was formerly the co-director of the Shoulder Service at Harvard Medical School and was recruited to work with Torry and his research group and to study sports medicine at the “highest level.”

Millett, a physician for the U.S. Ski Team and surgical consultant for the Montreal Canadiens, expects their team’s research to receive major acclaim from the scientific community.

More importantly, it will help surgeons, like Millett, learn how to perfect surgeries for athletes such as tennis players, baseball pitchers, hockey players, swimmers, skiers and volleyball players, all of whom commonly suffer complex shoulder injuries.

“That’s our long-term goal,” Millett said.

The biplane fluoroscopy also will eventually help with the diagnosis of injuries to joints, tendons and ligaments.

Before the technology is used directly to help with surgeries on elite athletes, the doctors are using it in the laboratory to investigate the effects of surgeries to determine which ones perform best.

“Dr. Torry and his team should be commended for all the groundbreaking work they have done, pioneering this new technology to study how our joints move,” Millett said.

Torry was one of 100 people in the United States to serve recently on the National Academy of Sciences, where a collection of scientists meet to advise lawmakers on how to fund scientific research ranging from petroleum engineering to health care.

“It’s an honor to be appointed because you’re elected to this group and based on your recommendations, the government basically makes its decisions about appropriations and funding,” said Torry, who contributed his expertise on how people age.

Scientists were divided into 10 groups and Torry’s group spent hours discussing how nature, nurture and chance affect how people age.

“It was that type of very abstract questioning,” Torry said. “Nature, nurture ” no one knows the answer to that, but we were told to come up with a consensus of how to approach it and how to study it.”

Torry recommended that the government fund studies of exercise programs in hot and cold climates for aging baby boomers. Exercise works to ward off obesity, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. The government also should consider giving tax incentives to seniors to join health clubs, he said.

Torry’s group included an astrophysicist and a woman who had studied how to remove algae and pond from streams in Kenya so that people had clean water to drink.

Another man studied genetics of worms, or as the scientist called them, “c. elegans.”

Having never heard the phrase, Torry asked his assistant to make copies of the scientist’s papers, which he read ” to learn more.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at (970) 748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.

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